Investors tell AT&T and Verizon to explain their roles in U.S. surveillance

The New York Times reports: Shareholders are putting AT&T and Verizon Wireless on notice: Tell the public more about the companies’ role in government surveillance efforts or risk a ding to the bottom line.

Two separate but similar shareholder resolutions, from New York State’s comptroller and a large investment firm, say that the two dominant wireless carriers hurt customers’ trust by not disclosing more about the data they share with governments. The resolutions are the latest sign that the flurry of revelations about American spying efforts is putting business pressure on the companies lassoed into providing customer data to the government.

“If a customer is concerned about their privacy perhaps being compromised, they could switch to another service,” said Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York’s comptroller, the trustee of the $160.7 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund. He filed a resolution with AT&T this month demanding that the carrier publish reports on the information it collects and shares.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which juggle enormous amounts of phone calls and Internet data over their networks, have been quiet about the types of information they share about their customers. Internet giants like Yahoo and Google, meanwhile, have published so-called transparency reports detailing the types of information they share with government agencies.

Some tech companies, including Microsoft and Apple, have also been outspoken about their desire to release more information on government requests, including how many orders they receive to disclose the contents of email and other communications.

The comptroller and Trillium Asset Management, an independent investment adviser with over $1.3 billion in assets under management, are pushing for similar disclosure from AT&T and Verizon. They say their investments in AT&T and Verizon are at stake because a lack of trust could make customers look for other service providers. [Continue reading…]

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